Let’s Get Physical

Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh keeps growing.

Photo by Chad Isaiah.

Things are getting sporty in Pittsburgh. The Stonewall Sports franchise – and its parent organization, Stonewall Alliance – is sweeping through the LGBTQ+ community all over Allegheny County. They have a host of games and activities to keep everyone engaged, including kickball, sand volleyball, bocce, bowling, dodgeball, Ultimate Frisbee and yoga.

It all started with kickball. In 2010, Martin Espinoza, Mark Gustafson, Melvin Thomas, Scott Moorehead and Scott Filter gathered in Washington, D.C. to play kickball. They started a league that blossomed into Stonewall Kickball. By 2014, they opened five new chapters, including Pittsburgh. That year, the organization added dodgeball. Soon, the group of players became a national organization under the 501c3 nonprofit tax filing Stonewall Alliance, and they added more sports and activities to their expanding roster.

This spring, Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh elected five new commissioners to oversee their burgeoning list of games. Longtime Commissioners Brian McCollum (Bowling), and Justin Coy, (Bocce), are joined by incoming commissioners, Bill Bainbridge (Ultimate Frisbee), Heather Brinker (Kickball), Harry Caskey (Sand Volleyball), Nikki Nastasi (Dodgeball) and Michelle Kaminsky (Yoga).

Justin Coy, Michelle Kaminsky, and Bill Bainbridge. Photo by Chad Isaiah.

McCollum, an avid, life-long bowler, brought his favorite sport to Pittsburgh through Stonewall Sports in 2016. McCollum, who has been bowling since he was seven years old, was running his own league, Three Rivers Rollers, out of Forward Lanes, but saw the merits of hooking up with Stonewall Sports to broaden his base of players.

 “Bowling is for everyone,” McCollum said. “It’s for any shape and size.”

Bocce Commissioner Justin Coy feels similarly, having said, “We call Stonewall bocce a socially competitive league.” He was very particular about the branding.

“It’s random people and groups of good friends engaging in community and connecting through pitching glowing balls in a field,” he added.

In Pittsburgh, Stonewall Bocce began in fall 2016 with six teams and close to sixty players. From there, the sport grew exponentially over the six seasons.

 “Last Fall, we welcomed forty teams and 350 players to our new home in Swissvale,” Coy said.

 “On game nights, we’ve been hosting food trucks and having local organizations visit us each week at the field at Les Getz Memorial Park. It’s a fantastic opportunity for the community to get to know us,” he added.

This year, Bill Bainbridge brought Ultimate Frisbee to Stonewall after playing with another league, Pittsburgh Ultimate. It will be the first time Frisbee will enter the pantheon of games in any of the Stonewall Sports’ nationwide locations.

“I used to play pick up games in high school,” Bainbridge said. “It’s a sport but it’s competitive and fun. It’s a game for everyone.” He reiterated that Frisbee is an inexpensive sport, “All you need is a Frisbee and some cones.” Unlike some of the other Stonewall Sports, Frisbee is self-refereed.

While Ultimate Frisbee is new, Dodgeball will be entering its eighth season. Nikki Nastasi has been an active, long-time member of the Stonewall community, having played in nine seasons of kickball, seven seasons of dodgeball and sand volleyball, and three seasons of bowling. She served as the assistant head referee for dodgeball during the winter 2022 season, has been a member of competitive USA Dodgeball for the last year, and has participated in two Stonewall National Conference & Tournaments.

“I simply love the sport of dodgeball and think it is one of the best ways to have fun while involving community togetherness,” Natasi said. I would like to promote interest, create more passion for the sport, and bring exciting new practices for future seasons.”

Michelle Kaminsky, the new yoga commissioner, has been leading yoga for twenty years.

“It’s a great way to stretch and tone, but also become more centered,” she said. “Yoga helps you become your best self.”

She also added that Stonewall has “highly-educated, highly-trained” yoga instructors.

Newly elected Sand Volleyball Commissioner, Harry Caskey, shared that when Stonewall Sports came to the city, is when he started kickball.  

Coy also started with kickball. He mentioned that a lot of Stonewall participants play several different sports.

“It’s a great place to meet like-minded individuals outside the bars and the apps,” Coy said.

Stonewall Sports are expanding all over the city and beyond.

“Bocce started at Arsenal Park in Lawrenceville, but we had to move out to Swissvale. We weren’t sure our players would follow us out of the city, but they have,” Coy said.

Stonewall Sports take place from Swissvale to Carnegie. Ultimate Frisbee, Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh’s newest sport, is located in Carnegie Park, just off Forsythe Road. Sand Volleyball is located inside the sand volleyball courts in Highland Park, and yoga is at the QMNTY on E. Ohio Street in the Northside (both indoor and outdoor depending on the weather). Bowling takes place on Tuesday evenings at Bowlero Pittsburgh (formerly AMF Noble Manor Lanes), 2440 Noblestown Road, Pittsburgh. Dodgeball is played at the Thelma Lovette YMCA in the Hill District. Kickball is played in Meadow Park in O’Hara Township.

Both the incoming commissioners and the more seasoned commissioners have similar goals — they all want to make the sports competitive but fun for everyone.

“My main goal is making it fun,” Caskey said. “Too often in sports leagues, there are competitive players and players who are playing at a more intermediate or recreational level. Safety becomes an issue. If you have a competitive player spike a ball over the net to a player who is just learning the game, it can cause an injury.”

“Safe in every sense of the word,” he added. “The key thing is I want to ensure players have a safe space.” All of the Commissioners agreed that Stonewall Sports respects every individual’s gender identity and has a zero-tolerance policy on bullying.   

“If you’re interested in an inclusive, fun, and competitive league, come to Stonewall Sports,” Caskey said.

 Caskey quoted the organization’s mission: “To provide an inclusive, low-cost, high fun sport leagues that are managed as a non-profit with a philanthropic heart.”

While there are registration fees, Stonewall offers a Play It Forward fund, where prospective participants can apply for an opportunity for reduced pricing for Stonewall activities. Alternatively, donors can make contributions to the Play It Forward fund and sponsor a player.

The commissioners are eager to expand into other sports and social activities.

“I am looking forward to partnering up with Stonewall Alliance and other sports throughout the year to deliver more Pittsburgh events,” Natasi said.

In July, players from across the gamut of games will be headed to Philadelphia for Stonewall Sports Philly National Tournament and Summit, a four-day event that will be filled with tournament play and social gatherings.

Gabe Marenco-Garcia, a Stonewall Sports – Philadelphia player and Chair of the upcoming tournament, said, “Sports can be a real triggering and traumatic experience for queer-identifying folx in their formative years. I feel it is important that we continue to remind ourselves of that as an organization.”

“Joining Stonewall allowed me to break down that wall and finally enjoy sports. I’m not the most competitive or athletic by any means, but I know how to have a damn good time!” they concluded.

For more information on all the Stonewall Sports Pittsburgh leagues, visit StonewallSportspgh.org.

Michael Buzzelli is a stand-up comedian and sit-down author. As a comedian, he has performed all around the country, most notably, the Ice House, the Comedy Store and the Improv in Los Angeles. As a writer, Michael Buzzelli has been published in a variety of websites, magazines and newspapers. He is a theater and arts critic for 'Burgh Vivant,’ Pittsburgh's online cultural talk magazine. He is also a Moth Grand Slam storyteller and actor. His books, "Below Average Genius," a collection of essays culled from his weekly humor column in the Observer-Reporter, and his romantic comedy,  “All I Want for Christmas," are on sale at Amazon.com. He is working on a LGBTQ romantic comedy called, “Why I Hate My Friends.” You can follow him on Facebook and Twitter. (He / Him / His)